(REUTERS) – The Lebanese Shi’ite movement Hezbollah vowed to maintain its “jihad” in neighboring Syria at a huge rally in Beirut on Wednesday, a day after its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said the war was in a phase of escalation.
Addressing thousands marking Shi’ite Islam’s annual Ashura religious commemoration in a heavily secured square in Hezbollah’s south Beirut stronghold, Nasrallah said the war in Syria was being fought in defense of the whole region.
“We will continue to bear our great responsibilities of jihad there. Your sons are there, and your men, your brothers, your husbands. They are defending their existence, dignity and the resistance,” he said.
In a speech on Tuesday, Nasrallah asserted the Middle East was in a phase of escalating tension and there appeared to be no prospect of a political solution to the war in Syria.
“The regional scene is currently one of tension and escalation, and it does not appear that there are paths for negotiations or solutions,” he said in a rare live televised speech before thousands of supporters in Beirut, adding that “the theater (in Syria) was open to more tension, escalation and confrontation.”
On Wednesday, black-clad supporters paraded through the streets to mark the 7th-century death of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Hussein, seen by Shi’ites as a divinely guided leader, and they roared approval of Nasrallah’s remarks.
“We answer your call, o Nasrallah!” they chanted.
Since Hezbollah’s entry into Syria’s civil war on the side of President Bashar Assad, some 1,500 of its fighters have died, say security sources in Lebanon. These have included about 350 this year; their images, often in heroic pose, are displayed on posters in Shi’ite villages across Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s part in the war is presented by the movement as both a defense against Sunni Muslim jihadists in Syria who have vowed to exterminate all Shi’ites, and as a way of protecting the regional Iran-backed bloc that has long sustained Hezbollah.